Sunday, October 28, 2018

The World Series | Lefsetz Letter

Do sports die?

I just spent seven and a half hours watching game three of the World Series. It ended after three a.m. on the east coast, it took eighteen innings, and all through it I had to fight looking at my phone.

Forget the backlash, we live in a distraction economy, and it’s never going to change. We’ve empowered people, the individual is finally a star, and they like it.

It never used to be this way. Used to be there was a clear demarcation between those known and unknown. Now, most of the known, are not that well-known. Or if they are known, their fame derives from exploits far from their wheelhouse, like Kanye West, who’s a musician, but is known by most for his political antics. The only person everyone seems to know is Donald Trump, after that…

So I grew up loving baseball. Went to Yankee Stadium, watched the pre-season games on TV, but…

The game remains the same but times have changed.

And it’s not only baseball, it’s football too. Everything from the last century that has not modernized for the new era is fading. Football is a game of coaches, and a relatively faceless team, in an era where the individual is king. As for basketball, the reason the NBA is so big is because its management allowed the players to extend themselves, have an identity, speak up. The NBA runs on Twitter. The old people who watch baseball are flummoxed by the social media service.

Now baseball is better at the stadium. But even there, it’s hard not to get distracted by your phone and your eating. But at home? When time is passing and nothing is happening? That’s a condition we no longer have in our society, boredom. Hell, I remember the days before clickers, i.e. remote controls, hell, I remember the days before color! But now we’ve got pristine hi-def and it all looks good but your phone has an even sharper screen, and it’s tailored just for you.

This is what the media has wrong. This is what the boomers have wrong. We are never going back, only forward. These people blamed Apple and Android for ruining society. They even got them to include software that theoretically discourages use, but it doesn’t, read the reviews. Wait a second, I should shut off my phone so I should read your physical newspaper and watch your TV program and talk to people? I hate to break it to you, but they do call it SOCIAL media. I’m in touch with more people than I’ve ever been in my life, and they’re all looking for ME! And it’s not only me, it’s EVERYBODY! And this has numerous consequences, one being that it’s hard to penetrate everybody’s feed. The second is that old paradigms, like baseball, don’t mesh with the new world.

First and foremost, baseball is now about money. Hell, they now have ads DURING the game, between pitches. Maybe they can fix it so it’s all ads occasionally broken up by the game. And one reason the games are so long is because the commercial breaks are so long. But money comes first. Only it doesn’t.

If you want people to believe, which is the bedrock of any enterprise, you’ve got to make it about the core, not the penumbra. The game, not the ads. The music, not the sponsorship. People want to believe. When you’re whoring yourself out, they can’t. But the ten percenters keep telling us it does not matter, when the truth is they just want to get paid. Any wanker who admires you because of your wealth is not a true fan. They’ve got to admire you for your identity, your talent, your skill, and that’s got nothing to do with money. Furthermore, these same people will support you when the sponsors are long gone.

We live in a Me Decade. Tom Wolfe’s was different, the seventies were about personal development. Today it’s about curating the world for yourself. Hell, everybody’s got a different wallpaper on their screen. Everybody’s got different settings.

And this is even evident at shows. People are on their phones because the experience is about them. They want to share it, with those there and at home. And if you bore the audience, they’ll start surfing their handsets for information. I know, I was recently at a gig and when the act played an unknown song, the guy next to me started reading the “Wall Street Journal” on his phone.

So you want to create something so great, that it trumps the phone. And that’s hard to do, but not impossible, but that’s your challenge.

Kinda like today’s game. What makes baseball work is the tension. And it didn’t emerge until about the thirteenth inning, when the Red Sox had run out of players and everybody was tired and anybody who got on base could change the game. And when the Red Sox scored and the Dodgers did too, in the bottom of the inning, to keep the game going.

Then again, experienced viewers winced many times. Because of the lack of fundamentals! Cody Bellinger running before the pitcher’s delivery? God, they teach you not to do that back in Little League. And the missed throws. Used to be these errors were the anomaly, now they’re there all the time, because the players are millennials, and the ethos is it’s all about ME! I don’t want to move the players around the bases, I want to hit a home run and be a hero! Unless it’s Instagram-worthy, it’s not worth doing!

So I don’t know if I’m gonna watch tomorrow, at least it’s now a series, two to one instead of three to zip. But I do have a life, and I had to blow off stuff I wanted to do this evening. Do I want to do that in the future?

Used to be the World Series had gravitas. Back before the endless playoffs, when the games took place in early October during Indian Summer. Baseball was not made to be played at forty two degrees, hell, it impacts the playing of the game. And it was not made to be played long after midnight either. But over the decades the game has been changed in service of the almighty dollar, to the point where most of the public has no idea who the great players even are.

But I’m not sure baseball is savable.

People like action. Something so intense they don’t want to be distracted. Something that they feel involved in. Which is why eSports and Fantasy games are so big.

But the owners of this nation, the ones who believe they are in control, feel that nothing must change and they must continue to win. So they miss change completely until it smacks them in the face. Like Trump. Turns out globalization hurt a lot of people, even though it was the right path to take, but these people felt ignored, they should have been helped, but if one team is winning they don’t care about another until…

It all crashes.

What we’ve learned in the twenty first century is edifices crash overnight. Kinda like that old Hemingway quote. The change comes very slowly, then all at once. Kinda like digital cameras. Kinda like the adoption of smartphones. Kinda like the death of baseball.


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